For years, the Tories said austerity was over. But look around: it’s getting worse, and there’s more to come | John Harris
This week’s budget is certain to bring more cuts. Westminster is missing the stark fact that people simply cannot take any more
A few days before Rishi Sunak emerged from 10 Downing Street to warn of forces “trying to tear us apart” and his belief that our streets have been “hijacked”, there was a news story about a national emergency that has yet to spark any such theatrics. The Guardian reported the findings of a new study by the children’s charity Kindred2, in which 1,000 primary school teachers in England and Wales were asked about the developmental condition of kids starting school, and the widely shared sense that “school readiness” has long since fallen into decline. About one in four children entering reception year, they said, are now not toilet-trained. Nearly 40% “struggle to play or share with others” and 28% “incorrectly use books”: their instinctive response to being presented with one, it seems, is to swipe or tap it, “as if using an electronic device”.
Even if a lot of what sits behind those figures is confounding and complicated, it is not hard to join the relevant dots from these heartbreaking problems to the defining political fact of the last 14 years: austerity, and how long years of cuts have played out in millions of lives. Since 2010, England has lost just over 1,400 of the children’s centres that the last Labour government set up to tackle exactly the developmental issues that now seem to have exploded. If kids seem unfamiliar with books, that probably reflects the woeful number of public libraries that have gone, with even more set to close in the midst of local government’s latest financial crisis. Meanwhile, austerity’s most vivid manifestation – simple poverty – is surely at the heart of what is now evident in thousands of reception classes.